For the Love of Reading: Keeping a Reading Journal

For the Love of Reading: Keeping a Reading Journal

person reading book outside

 

I’ve always loved books. As a child of eight, my mom tells me, I often got up early—sometimes before 6:30 a.m.!—to read. One night, when I complained that I was tired, my mom suggested that perhaps I should sleep a little later in the mornings. I responded, “I can’t! The books are tempting me!” To help her poor daughter resist the lure of the printed page, my mother pulled no fewer than seven story books out of my bed sheets! 

As a lover of the written word, I’m not alone: according to a 2005 study of pleasure reading commissioned by the Government of Canada, 50% of Canadians report reading more than seven books per year, and another 37% state that they have read at least one book in the past twelve months (Créatec + 5).[1]

Moreover, many studies point out the benefits of reading—even reading for fun. For instance, Josie Billington of the University of Liverpool reports that books help readers find inspiration, feel relief from stress, experience new perspectives, develop stronger empathy, and think more positively about their lives (Billington 4-13). Likewise, Sharon Murphy of York University argues that reading improves self-knowledge, social skills, mental and physical health, academic achievement, and civic participation (Murphy 16-27). In short, reading isn’t just fun: it also makes our lives better!

Sadly, though, obstacles sometimes keep us from our books. For some of us, learning disabilities make reading difficult. Others read so much for work or school that they don’t find joy in reading in their free time. And, of course, all of us are busy: in a recent National Reading Campaign survey, 112 out of 1001 Canadian respondents said they had read less in 2013 than they had in the previous year; of those 112, 59% cited busyness as a reason (Environics 4). With these barriers in mind, how can we build and sustain our love of reading?

The Reading Journalblank lined notebook, open

For me, a great deal of my motivation comes from my reading journal. For the past 12 years or so, I have tracked all the books I’ve read and the dates I’ve finished them, and this record of my reading practice spurs me onward, first by helping me measure success and second by drawing my attention to patterns and gaps in my reading practice.

First, my journal motivates me by helping me set benchmarks and track successes. Personally, I’ve found that I read an average of 10 books per year. When I beat that average, I celebrate. When I don’t, I feel determined to read more next year. Additionally, I made a rule early on that I could only record books I’d actually completed, cover to cover. More than once, I’ve pushed through the last few pages of a book just so I can mark it in my journal.

Second, my journal challenges me to read more by drawing attention to patterns and gaps. My journal often features recurring names or genres, reminding me of the authors and texts I love and encouraging me to read more in those areas. But my journal also highlights gaps and inspires me to fill them. For instance, when I first started my journal, I noticed that I’d read more books by men than by women and more European literature than world literature. Since then, I’ve aimed for a better balance. In this way, my journal has challenged me to greater depth and breadth as a reader.

Getting Started

Now, few strategies work for everyone: a reading journal might not motivate you in the same way that it motivates me. But it’s well worth a try. Plus, reading journals can take many forms, so there’s a good chance you can find something that works for you. How, then, can you get started? Some tips:

Format

  • Decide on a medium: electronic or hard-copy. While I read a lot of digital books at work, I tend to prefer hard-copy books when I’m reading for fun. Thus, for me, a physical notebook works best. However, if you tend to read on a device, an electronic notebook may work better.
  • If you choose an electronic notebook, use a versatile note-taking app like MS OneNote, where you can easily incorporate pictures, link to other pages, create tabs and folders, and so on. Personally, I find a simple word-processor, such as MS Word, too restrictive.[2] Alternately, consider using GoodReads, a social media service that allows you to track books read and share your thoughts on your reading.[3]
  • If you choose a paper journal, choose something that you find appealing. Many publishers offer products specifically designed for this purpose: just search “reading journal” or “reading log” on Amazon or Indigo. I started this way. However, over time, I’ve come to prefer a regular ruled notebook: I feel less constrained by someone else’s choices about design, section type, and length. Simple ruled notebooks are also cheaper! But if you like the structure of a premade reading journal, go for it.list of books read, showing the book's title, author, and date read
  • If you enjoy making beautiful things, consider decorating your notebook. If you’ve chosen a hard-copy journal, get out some pens and add some style to your cover, margins, or section headers. If you’re working on a device, you can select fonts, colours, and images to make your pages attractive.

Content

Whether you’re writing on your device or on paper, divide your notebook into sections. I’ve listed some of the most common below:

  • Books Read. This section, usually near the beginning of the notebook, contains a bulleted list of books completed. Some readers prefer a continuous list, while others create a new page or section for each year. In either case, when you list a book, you should include, at minimum, the author and title of the book and the date you finished reading the book. If you’re interested in seeing other patterns in your reading history, you may also want to note the book’s original publication date, the book’s length (number of pages), and your start date (as well as your completion date). Finally, some readers include a rating out of five or ten.
  • Books to Read. Here, you can list and even prioritize books that you’d like to read next. I don’t find this section particularly helpful in a hard-copy reading journal: my list of books to read is too long and changes too often. However, this section would work better in an electronic journal, where you can edit the list more easily.favourite quotations from books read
  • Books Borrowed and Lent. This section may be useful for those who borrow or lend among friends and need to keep track of their books. Personally, I borrow most of my books from the library, so I don’t usually use this section: I rely on library notifications to remind me about books borrowed.
  • Favourite Quotations. This section allows the reader to collect nuggets of wisdom for later reflection. Be sure to write down the source of every quotation so you can find it again later!
  • Reflections (aka. “Reading Notes”). Reading notes don’t need to be formal. Write about how the book makes you feel, which parts you liked most, what you learned, which sorts of people might enjoy this book, which questions remain unanswered, and so on!

Other Thoughts

  • Don’t force yourself to write a reflection for every book, and don’t let your entries run too long. I find that, if I write too much or too often, my journal starts to feel like a chore rather than a pleasure. Write about the books that inspire or intrigue you, and let your interest in the topic dictate the length. For instance, my (handwritten) entries generally range from 0.5 to 3 pages.
  • Don’t worry about your spelling or, if you’re writing by hand, your handwriting. This journal is for you. As long as you can understand it later, it’s good enough.
  • When I first started, I only recorded a book the first time I read it. Eventually, though, I realized that I needed to list the second and third readings so that I could see the full picture of what I was reading and how much I was reading. Now, when I read a book for a second or third time, I list it in sequence, exactly as I would list any other book; I just add a little note that says “re-read” or “second reading.” When I re-read a book, I often write a second reflection, too: I enjoy seeing how my responses differ over time!reading notes, showing the title and author of the book, the date read, and then the reader's thoughts on the book
  • If you read a book with someone—for example, a friend or a spouse—consider adding a note with that person’s name in the “Books Read” section. If you read together often, consider creating a joint reading journal!
  • Include any books that you have read for school or work, even if you didn’t enjoy them. I’ve found that I feel more encouraged when I see the full scope of the reading I’ve done each year.
  • If you read a lot of shorter texts (e.g., stories, essays, or poems), consider recording them in a separate section. You should definitely celebrate these successes, but I think I’d find it confusing to incorporate them directly into my list of books read.
  • Consider creating a film journal, too! In your list of films watched, rather than listing the author, you can record the director and any headlining performers.

 

However you approach your journal, I hope that it encourages you to read more deeply and more broadly. Also, we’d love to hear about other strategies that keep you reading—book clubs, audiobooks, and more! You’ll find us on social media (Facebook, Instagram), or you can email us at writingcentre@ambrose.edu. For more blog posts from our team, please visit https://ambrose.edu/writingcentre.


[1] This study is rather old now. However, a more recent, albeit less formal, study from BookNet Canada offers similar numbers: in April 2018, BookNet reported that 81% of their 750 respondents said they had read at least one book in the past twelve months (Harkonen n.p.).

[2] By the way, all Ambrose students have free access to MS Office 360, including MS OneNote. If you’re not sure how to access this software, speak with our IT department.

[3] Just keep in mind that the user license gives GoodReads the right to reproduce, modify, and publish any content you post. If you’re hoping to use your notes for other purposes someday, you may not want to post them here first. Check GoodReads’ terms and conditions for details.

 

Works Cited

Billington, Josie. Executive Summary. The Untold Power of Books. The Reading Agency, 2016. The Reading Agency, https://readingagency.org.uk/news/GALAXY%20Quick%20Reads%20Report%202016....

Créatec +. Reading and Buying Books for Pleasure: 2005 National Survey, Final Report. Canadian Heritage, 2005. Government of Canada, http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/CH44-61-2005E.pdf.

Environics Research Group. Pleasure Reading Survey: October 2013. National Reading Campaign, 2013. National Reading Campaign, http://nationalreadingcampaign.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Environics-....

Harkonen, Kira. “Canadians and Their Reading Habits.” BookNet Canada, 27 April 2018, https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2018/4/27/canadians-and-their-reading-.... Accessed 9 July 2019.

Murphy, Sharon. Towards Sustaining and Encouraging Reading in Canadian Society: A Research Report. The National Reading Campaign, 2013. The National Reading Campaign, http://nationalreadingcampaign.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/TowardsSust....